MAYBE IT AIN'T THAT BAD AFTER ALL...
While Belgium unfortunately chose not to join the so-called "Coalition of the Willing" after OIF by providing troops for the peacekeeping effort in Iraq, at least a (small) contribution to the War on Terror has been made by, a.o., the deployment of some 630 troops to Afghanistan within the framework of NATO’s ISAF operation. ISAF stands for International Security Assistance Group and army contingents and/or airforce elements from various NATO countries, such as Canada, Germany, Romania, Norway and Portugal participate.
The Belgian contribution to ISAF consists mainly of:
a.) Guarding and securing Kabul International Airport (KAIA) – some 400 Army troops
b.) One Para Company as part of the so-called Battlegroup 3
In addition, a handful of soldiers have been detached to the German-led PRT for Kunduz. PRT, for Provincial Reconstruction Team, the concept being an Afghan government "antenna" of reconstruction teams protected by ISAF troops to remote Afghan areas, to restore a semblance of governmental control in areas hitherto considered the realm of warlords. Also, the Belgian Air Force provides one C 130 Hercules aircraft for air transport throughout Afghanistan.
Scene at Kabul international Airport (KAIA). The soldiers look rather bored.
Since I have only scant information regarding the KAIA detachment but plenty on Battlegroup 3, I’d like to focus on the latter.
The 550-strong Battlegroup 3, or BG3, is one of three battlegroups forming KMNB (Kabul Multinational Brigade). BG3 is thus battalion-sized and consists of three elements: a Norwegian company-sized (180 men) Kavaleri Eskadron drawn from 8th Division, equipped with Mercedes scout cars and tracked M113 and CV90 APCs (tracked Armoured Personnel Carriers). Then there are the Hungarians of the 1st company (170 troops) of the 34th Long Range Reconnaissance Group "Bercsenyi Laszlo", equipped with Mercedes scout cars and BTR 80A APCs. The third element of BG3 is the 200-strong reinforced 21st company of Belgiums First Para Battalion from Diest. Their mounts are Bombardier Iltis jeeps and Pandur wheeled APCS.
BG3’s staff is composed of 16 Norwegians, 16 Belgians and 2 Hungarians. Commander is the Norwegian Lt. Col. Odlo, who describes the Battle groups mission as follows:
"Battlegroup 3 is a highly professional unit which is available when needed to assist in providing security in Kabul and its surrounds for organizations working in the area."
Above, Pandur APC in action. The 21st Coy has 8 at its disposal, each armed with a .50 cal machinegun, plus two equipped for medevacs. Below, the soft-skinned Bombardier Iltis jeep on patrol in Kabul. I'd rather sit in a Pandur than in an Iltis of course. The Iltis jeeps are Canadian and the relatively strong Canadian contingent in Afghanistan has them too on their inventory. In January 2004 a Canadian soldier was killed by a mine blast while travelling in the light jeep (much lighter than a Humvee, anyway), sparking a row in Canada on whether it was appropriate to send troops into combat in such light vehicles.
BG3s main task is assisting the diverse Afghan security organs, like police and NSD (National Department of Security) to create a safer climate in and around Kabul, thereby making it clear that the government is now in charge of the situation and that not only is there no place anymore for the Taliban but neither for the warlords, who still consider each progress by the central government outside Kabul as an incursion in their fiefdom. As the Afghan National Army (ANA) still has only some 21,000 troops, ISAFS presence and high visibility is still necessary.
BG3’s soldiers carry out daily patrols, on foot as well as by road and during the day as well as the night. Each patrol has an interpreter with it and very often works with local police. Another main purpose, apart from thwarting attacks and instilling faith in the people by making it clear who’s boss, is to gather intelligence.
Battlegroup 3’s Base Camp is in the Canadian "Julian" Camp, some 20 kloms southwest of Kabul Airport.
This dude on duty on KAIA looks eerily like me. The gun he is holding is our home-made FNC assault rifle. Home-made, since from the FN (Fabrique Nationale) factory in Herstal, eastern Wallonia. Mind you, he's not serving with 21st company in BG3 so he's not a Para but an army guy. All Belgian uniforms you see in this photo have this strange camo, although the Paras have by now received new desert camo.
All pictures taken from the Belgian Armed Forces site.